The Chicago Bears defensive squad saved Buddy Ryan’s job with a letter written to George Halas in 1981.
It was Thanksgiving 1981. The Bears were coming off a loss to the Dallas Cowboys to drop their record to 3-10. The writing was on the wall. The Bears defensive players knew that owner George Halas was going to be making changes to their coaching staff.
Safety Gary Fencik started a conversation with his teammates about his concerns and over the next few days it was determined that he would pen a letter to Halas and the entire squad would sign it. On December 9, that letter was delivered to Halas.
The letter read:
"Dear Mr. Halas,We the undersigned members of the Bears defensive football team are concerned about the future of our team. We recognize that with the disappointing season the Bears have had this year that there may be changes in the coaching staff and/or the administration of the team. Our main concern is over the fate of Buddy Ryan and the other defensive coaches.Buddy and his staff have done an excellent job improving the defensive team’s performance. You need only look at our defensive statistics over the years to see the improvements that have been made. Even this year after our poor start he was able to pull us out of our slump and turn us into what is now a good solid defensive team.Buddy has maintained the discipline, moral[e], pride and effort that we need in order to play well defensively, in spite of the fact that we haven’t had much help from the offensive team. It would have been easy for us to fold our tent and play out the season but Buddy and his staff wouldn’t let that happen.Our concern centers on the fact that if Buddy and his staff are replaced it will set our defensive team back a minimum of two years and possibly more by the time we learn a new system and adjust to new coaches.We feel that if there is to be a change to the coaching staff, Buddy Ryan should be retained in order to avoid a setback for our defense. We feel we are a good defensive team and with their help, we can be a great defensive team in the near future.Thank you for considering our request.Sincerely,The Chicago Bears defensive team"
Halas’ response? According to the book, Monsters, by Rich Cohen, Halas met with the entire defensive squad alone (sans coaches) and told them that every defensive coach would be back in 1982. He also followed up that meeting with a hand-written note:
"This is a magnificent letter! It is a beautifully written letter! It is the highest tribute a coach could receive! I can tell you without fear of contradiction that this is the first time in the 61-year history of the Chicago Bears that such a letter has been written about a Bear coach. I’m so fortunate to have you boys on my team."
Halas appreciated the love and passion the players had for Buddy Ryan and he made sure that continuity stayed and made it a stipulation for Mike Ditka that all defensive coaches be retained when he hired Iron Mike.
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The fact that Halas only hired Ditka on the condition that Buddy Ryan be retained definitely launched the conflict that those two coaches consistently had. You can also tell, based on the fact that the defensive players had no qualms throwing the offensive unit under the bus in the letter to Halas, the offense-defense rivalry was already brewing in 1981 so it’s no surprise that it was a major issue throughout the 1985 season.
Make no mistake about it, this letter was critical to the 1985 season. The ’85 Bears wouldn’t exist without Buddy Ryan. It’s possible the Bears still would have won the Super Bowl, but the defense never would have become what it was and the Bears, even if they had won the Super Bowl, may have just been an ordinary champion, instead of arguably the greatest team in the history of the league.
The Bears defense didn’t have as much talent as some of the all-time great defenses, but the talent they did haev was perfect for Buddy Ryan’s 46 defense. Changing defensive coordinators and coaches would have set back the Bears defense and it probably wouldn’t have peaked in ’84 through ’86 like it did.
The personnel was being put in place, but it was this letter that was the first step towards the ’85 Bears becoming an all-time great team. Step two was bringing in Mike Ditka. Super Bowl championships are earned; they take years of hard work and dedication. While the Bears hard work in ’81 wasn’t really rewarded until January of 1986, it was this letter that started the Bears down a Super Bowl path. The ’85 Bears will always be remembered throughout NFL history, and this is the letter that made that possible.